Dr. Jim’s Vacation Bible School!
Posted on May 23, 2012 at 4:19 pm by Dr. Jim
Ok, marks have been in for a few weeks, the student conference and its admin aftermath over (and was a GLORIOUS success!), my other conference for which I had to do a last minute paper because I wasted the last 4 months is over and done with, and there is nothing but the summer to look forward to!
So, what’s on the agenda? In short, I’m going to get Genesis-idle.
Theoretically at least I’m going to spend the summer in the garden, pulling weeds, putting in a few paths (again), a little pond and (finally) planting the delphinium forest I’ve wanted for years, and sitting by the rose bushes writing horrible things about the Bible on my Apple and…
… say biblical things like: “Woman! Makest me a sandwich and fetchest me a beer!” To which She Who Must Be Obeyed will say “That’s nice, dear, you just keep playing in the garden like a good boy.”
In any case, we have some super ginormous sunflowers planted. Well, they’re not super ginormous yet… And I have made a start on digging up some weeds, pruning some overgrown trees and shrubs, and we found a place for the little pond I bought a few years ago but never dug in.
Clearly NOT the pond I will install. Mary is blonde.
So, what else? Oh yeah, hopefully I will get some paid-for work done; i.e., writing horrible things about the Bible. Of which there is much to write:
First off, I must write a paper on Kings as authoritative literature in the Persian Period. This is for a volume edited by Diana Edelman covering the Deuteronomistic History’s status in the Persian Period. My paper is LONG overdue. I say Diana at the Edmonton workshop I attended2 weeks ago and I’m rather glad she didn’t kill me. The problem is I’m not sure HOW the book would have been authoritative and/or to whom. I think it will be a paper of hypotheticals: how certain features of Kings may have produced a culturally validated myth enshrining some important points of identity for the Persian community. It will be a rethinking of sorts of my thesis, Israel in the Book of Kings of which Amazon.com still apparently has some unsold copies (probably the entire print run of 7). When that is done, I shall have another drink, but probably not of this:
Secondly, I must turn my Edmonton conference paper into a publishable piece. This was a paper done for the Thinking About Water in the Persian and Early Hellenistic Period Workshop hosted by Ehud Ben Zvi and Francis Landy at the University of Alberta. The workshop is an expression of the partnership between the U. of Alberta and Theological Faculties at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich. The workshop was lots of fun, with 18 presentations from May 8-11. Besides Ehud and Francis and a few of their students, there was an international cast of contributors and one of the best parts of the workshop is that us North Americans get to see what the Germans and others are up to.None of them tried to uncover the biblical principles behind this:
The radiation-free contributors were:
Bob Becking, Utrecht University, the Netherlands
Ehud Ben Zvi, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
Kåre Berge, NLA School of Religion, Bergen, Norway
Diana V. Edelman, University of Sheffield, UK
Louis Jonker, University of Stellensbosch, South Africa
Peter Juhás, Catholic University in Ružomberok, Slovakia/Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München, Germany
Sonya Kostamo, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
Francis Landy, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
Christoph Levin, LMU, Munich, Germany
William S. Morrow, Queen`s University, Kingston, Canada
Reinhard Müller, LMU, Munich, Germany
Martti Nissinen, University of Helsinki, Finland
Urmas Nõmmik, University of Tartu, Estonia
Juha Pakkala, University of Helsinki, Finland
Peter Sabo, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
Hermann-Josef Stipp, LMU, Munich, Germany
Ian Wilson, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada
The schedule and titles can be found here. The proceedings will be published sometime next year. Hopefully I will be able to finish the paper this summer sitting in my garden wearing sandals sans socks, although I might get arrested for that…
This will be the third volume from this workshop. The first dealt with the theme of Exile (from a meeting in Edmonton in 2008) and another in 2009. It is published as
E. Ben Zvi and Christoph Levin (eds.) The Concept of Exile in Ancient Israel and its Historical Contexts (BZAW, 404; Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 2010). I posted on my two contributions here: “Myth of the Exilic Return: Myth Theory and the Exile as an Eternal Reality in the Prophets.” and “
The second volume is forthcoming and was on Memory and Forgetting in the Hebrew Bible (Munich, 2011) and hopefully that one will be out in time of SBL this November. My paper was:
Lest we forget our sins: Innovative religion, “exilicist” ideology, and the sanctification of disjunction.
This paper explores the production of various “exilicist” traditions in select Second Temple Judean writings that both institutionalize and problematize a theology of divine retribution. The book of Lamentations will be presented as routinizing past pain, continuing guilt and hopes for salvation and creating cultural “memories” in the wake of Persian restoration efforts in Yehud. This will be contrasted to the less emotive reporting of these events in Kings and elsewhere.
Implicit in Lamentations is not only an expression of trauma and shame but the craving for a resolution between these and hopes for vindication. The book may be described as opening a sacral space comparable to the way some physical monuments and memorials preserve and transmit memories of pain, suffering and the search for a positive meaning in past tragedies. The hoped for resolution cannot ultimately be found within the text of the highly organized poetry of Lamentations itself and the disjunction between textual order and imagined chaos is only reinforced by the continued transmission (and eventual canonization) of the book. The book, therefore, creates and transmits “memories” of pain and shame that it cannot sooth.
Anyway, my new paper was well received, despite being another last minute job. It does need some fixing, but I’m rather proud of the way it came together. It is probably the most wide-sweeping thing I ever wrote. I talked about Genesis, Isaiah, Psalms, the blurry boundaries of monotheism/polytheism, gods as representing paradoxical relationships and all sorts of other stuff. Bob Becking liked the cats that were on the draft that went around. Here are the first two pages (citations need to be fixed).
The Fluid Boundaries of Life, the Universe and Yahweh
Under heaven nothing is more soft and yielding than water.
Yet for attacking the solid and strong, nothing is better;
It has no equal.
The weak can overcome the strong;
The supple can overcome the stiff.
Under heaven everyone knows this,
Yet no one puts it into practice.
Tao Te Ching, 78.
In the Tao Te Ching, water was a metaphor and symbol of the ineffable Tao, the unifying and underlying cosmic principle. Later Taoist religious expression, however, populated the heavens with a bureaucracy on the model of the Imperial court. Against the boundlessly fluid and dynamic nature of the Tao was a more rigid, unyielding edifice built not on the patterns of nature but on society and authority.1
The result was a cosmology of polarity: on the one hand, the uninhibited freedom and suppleness of the Tao, on the other, the formal hierarchy of empire.
It was a human society that produced the idea of Tao and the Taoist pantheon, only to relegate itself to a status dependent upon these creations. Berger and Luckman (Social Construction, 106) call this process “reification” which they describe as:
the apprehension of the products of human activity as if they were something other than human products – such as facts of nature, results of cosmic laws, or manifestation of divine will. Reification implies that man is capable of forgetting his own authorship of the human world, and, further, that the dialectic between man, the producer, and his products is lost to consciousness.
It is not my purpose in this essay to turn the Israelites into Taoists. Rather, I would like to play with the nature of the biblical deity as a reification of social and environmental realities, potentialities and necessities with the result being an ever- shifting, and multi-faceted set of portraits of the god. This collective always seems in the long run to wear down the foundation stones of academic theories about just what was going on in the minds of Yahweh’s ancient creators.
Kurt Noll (“The Kaleidoscopic Nature of the Divine Personality in the Hebrew Bible”) comments on the kaleidoscopic nature of the biblical deity. He paraphrases Emile Durkheim and writes, “each Yahweh is a projection onto the heavens of a Yahwistic society”. Many of these Yahwehs are given control of the weather and other natural phenomena, and so one might think that the reification of Judaen society in the image of the god was an attempt to gain social control over nature.
So what I also hope to illustrate today is how, in thinking about the poly-valence of water in the biblical literature, we might be able to think about ancient Judah’s deity, and how thinking about the deity’s portraits, something of that society’s thoughts about water might become evident.
To do this, I think we have to first dislodge Yahweh, at least temporarily, from his throne over the flood (Psalm 29:10) to see something of what was involved in the process of hoisting him up there in the first place. And, having hoisted him, foisting upon him the ambivalence, uncertainty and dynamic fluidity of life and the water that sustains it. As Levi Strauss said about food, water is “good to think with”. And to my mind, people tend to think with gods far more than they think about them.
Although the divine entity Elohim or Yahweh in the biblical text is cast as the master of the waters, the figure of the god does not really calm the stormy ocean of clashing images of water in the Bible. Rather than being an organizing principle according to which the water is bound according to a logic of divine purpose and reason, the chaotic and sometimes absent water becomes a metaphor for the instability and precariousness of the created order and of the deity itself.
Now, what else do I have to do?
I got TWO papers in the SBL November meeting, and both have respondents so I will have to get them done early. Actually I had THREE accepted but had to back out of one (two is the limit). Unfortunately, it was the most fun one that I had to give up. The other two are for the brand new Metacriticism of Biblical Scholarship Program Unit. I’d originally thought that we would only get one session of the two or three that we had to propose to the SBL, but they gave us two, and I thought they needed me more that The Bible and Film unit, alhtough I really was looking forward to doing my paper on “And the Lord Human made Huey, Dewey, Louie, Wall-E, and Eve from the dust of excess. The deification of humanity in Silent Running and Wall-E.” Alas, some other time.
I’ve got my abstracts here for both of the paper I will be presentings: “The Royal Scam: Josiah, Joseph Smith and Believing One’s own Pious Fraud” and “On the Fairytales of Bronze Age Goat-Herders. Ancient Israel as the New Atheists’ Foil.” Now just to write the darn things!
I’ve also been asked by the Center For Inquiry to speak the weekend after the SBL in Ottawa for their Eschaton 2012 conference! Hooray! More baby-eating atheism! Noteworthy speakers for the conference will be PZ Myers of Pharyngula fame and Eugenie Scott, from the National Center for Science Education. No idea what they or I want me to talk about, yet, but I’m really looking forward to it.
Oh yeah, and I’ve really got to get going on those damn books I’ve been meaning to write… and the huge list of books I’ve been meaning to read…
This is probably what I need…